Doug Ruth's 1996/97 Trip Reports
Date: 29 Apr 1997
To: BMW -GS motorcycles mailing list
Subject: Trip Report - 970429.rpt
Sunday April 27 73940
Everyone was a bit slow getting up after the dinner party last night. I
tried to send some email, but was unable to get through to Entel, who I go
through to get to the Sprint operator. After a delicious breakfast of ham
and eggs I began to pack my things back on the bike.
I offered to take Sarah, Jen, and Hillary for short rides on the motorcycle.
None of them had been on a motorcycle before. I removed the Givi bag and we
put a pillow on top of the rack and that worked fine. I think. Actually I
don't think I asked any of them afterwards, how comfortable the seat had
After some photos, I thanked Jamie and Lois for their gracious hospitality.
It is always a welcome treat to meet and stay with families while on the
road. A bit of home away from home. In this case especially, after working
on the bike each day, it was nice to have a hot shower and relaxing
environment to come back to. Lois gave me a small bag with a couple apples,
candy bars and juice for the road. I realized later, that when she came out
with the bag of goodies, I think I was involved in talking with Jamie and I'm
not sure I thanked her. If you're reading this Lois, thanks for the goodies.
And to think this all came about because two ex-pat Canadian women met a
grungy biker at a gas station!
I really wanted to get caught up on my email before I left Santiago, so after
leaving their house around 12:30 (?) I rode back to center-city where I knew
I could call from the Entel office, and successfully sent my trip reports and
GPS data through April 19.
Leaving Santiago, I retraced my route north to Los Andes, and there turned
east towards the Andes and the Argentine frontier at Portillo. The road
serpentined and switchbacked up the side of the mountains and at Portillo
I stopped at the resort hotel/restaurant to don my Aerostich pants and a
long sleeve shirt. The weather had been sunny and nice all day, but here at
elevation it was getting cold and the sun no longer reached the bottom of
many of the valleys. I went inside for a cup of cafe con leche while I
reviewed my map and guide book for the route ahead. It was already 4:45pm
and I had to figure out how far I could get tonight. I was going to be
crossing the border in 10 miles or so and hoped to make it to Puente del
Inca, where the book said you could pitch your tent alongside the church.
I had finished my last roll of film back at Jamie and Lois' house and had
forgotten to buy more while still in Santiago, so bought a roll here at the
hotel. All they had was print film, only the first time I've used it this
trip. In the winter this area was a ski resort and numerous lifts climbed
the surrouding mountains, several crossing over the road itself. In the
hotel were brochures advertising skiing at Steamboat, Colorado.
The Chilean border post was just before the western end of the Caracoles
Cristo Redentor Tunnel, which went under the Andes and came out on the
Argentine side of the border. The procedure was straightforward and I
expected nothing less since this was now the fourth time I had crossed from
Chile into Argentina. The original road over the Andes, at Paso del Bermejo,
where the famous Statue of Christ the Redeemer is located, is now bypassed by
the International Tunnel under the Andes. Tomorrow, from the Argentine side
I hoped to ride up to that pass to see the statue. The road from the Chilean
side is supposedly impassable, and from the Argentine side, closed in winter.
Being April, I didn't know if it would still be open or not.
Shortly after leaving the tunnel on the Argentine side there was a checkpoint
where a soldier checked that I had had my papers properly taken care of on
the Chilean side, but no formalities were done here. That took place about
18 km further on, after passing through a small village where the road up to
the Statue of Christ the Redeemer turned off, marked by a huge
European-looking buttress over the old dirt road. I continued on to the
Argentine border post, arriving just after dusk. It was located inside a
huge building which you drove through, and all formalities took place under
that one roof, out of the cold and wind. Again, formalities were
straightforward. My departure was slowed by a large busload of kids from
Mendoza, Argentina, many of whom gathered around the motorcycle and asked me
about my trip. By the time I rode back outside it was dark, and I rode the
next 10 km to Puenta del Inca in the dark.
I knew there was a church at this village where you could camp next to, but
in the dark I couldn't find it after making two passes through town on the
main highway, the only street of note in the village. There was an army post
in town and I stopped there to ask the soldier on duty where the church was.
He pointed a couple hundred meters down the highway on the other side and
said to turn right there, cross the bridge, and then ride back west on the
other side of the river to the church.
There were no street lights and even with my PIAA lights it was difficult to
find the turnoff and the bridge, but after several wrong turns I found my way
over the bridge. However I couldn't find the church, and having found an
old, abandoned, stone building, decided that was good enough, and set up my
tent there. I could hear the river in the canyon between me and the highway.
Rather than mess with my stove in the dark on the ground, I walked back to
the village and found a restaurant/hospedaje and had a bistek dinner with
papas fritas and ensalada for P9. Just after I sat down another guy came in
and sat down at another table not far away, and we started talking. Michael
was from the States (he had last lived in San Francisco), but had now been
living and working for an insurance company in Buenos Aires for several
years. He was visiting the area in conjunction with a business trip to
Mendoza. He gave me his address in Buenos Aires and said I was welcome to
stay there if I liked. He said it might be possible to park my bike in the
lobby of his apartment building. I always feel guilty asking about that
immediately after someone extends me an offer of a place to stay, but it's
Monday April 28 74093
The morning was beautiful, with the rising sun striking the high peaks of the
mountains to the west and south. A bit farther up the hillside from where I
pitched my tent was the old stone church, sunlit peaks behind it. I
discovered that the "bridge" I had ridden across last night, was in fact the
natural bridge for which the village, Puenta del Inca, is named. Puenta is
the word for bridge in Spanish. The natural bridge was formed by the
sulphur-bearing hot springs beneath the bridge. The river flowed under the
bridge. Along one wall of the canyon, partially under the natural bridge,
were the ruins of old steam and thermal baths, built to take advantage of the
thermal waters. Water still flowed through many of the rooms and tubs, some
of which still had their original tiling. In a small room at the very bottom
of the ruins, reached by well-eroded stone steps, was a hot-tub cut into the
stone bed rock. Water bubbled up from within the tub and flowed out through
a small hole in the wall. The remnants of numerous candles on a small table
in the room showed it was still frequently used. The water was the perfect
temperature for soaking, but being alone I wasn't in the mood for a solitary
I made a breakfast out of the juice, apples and candybars Lois had given me
yesterday, then packed up and rode back towards the border and the road to
the statue of Christ the Redeemer. On the way I passed the Argentine border
post and had to explain that I had entered Argentine last night, and this
morning was just going to ride up to the Statue of Christ the Redeemer. Once
they understood that, it wasn't a problem. The guard did say that the road
was "dangerous" and that he wouldn't recommend it. I said I'd try.
At the turnoff to the pass, just after the large buttress over the dirt road,
the road itself was blocked by large piles of dirt across the road, and a
sign said something about the road being closed to large vehicles over a
certain length and width. Since that clearly didn't apply to me, I rode
around the dirt piles and continued on.
In about 6 miles I reached the summit. The last 50 yards to the summit
consisted of two tracks through about a foot and a half of snow, and there
had been a couple of other short muddy sections, but other than that it was a
good road and an easy ride.
At the summit (4020m), on both sides of the border, were three stone
buildings, now abandoned, which had formerly housed the Chilean and Argentine
border posts. Both flags still flew in front of the respective buildings,
but the windows were broken and boarded up, and snow drifts lay in the
corners of many of the rooms. Out front were several relatively new signs
pointing to kiosks selling tea or hot chocolate, and souvenirs, and when I
first rode up I thought there might be other people up here as well. But I
was the only person at the pass. I think in summer, at the peak of the
tourist season, small busses bring people to the pass, and then there are
probably people selling snacks and souvenirs. Now, at the end of April, with
winter well on its way, I had the place to myself.
I pulled the bike right up in front of the statue and got several timed shots
of me and the bike in front of the statue with the snowcapped peaks of the
Andes in the background, highlighted by the bright blue sky. It was some
distance from a six foot stone wall, on which I set the camera, to the foot
of the statue, and after hitting the button to start the timer, I had to jump
down six feet and then run as fast as I could to get back to the bike before
the shutter snapped. After three such sprints in the rarified air I was
winded. It also crossed my mind that it would make an interesting and ironic
story were I to sprain one or both ankles in my jumps down off the six foot
wall. But I was wearing my trusty Daytona Dual-Sport boots, so not to worry.
The statue was erected jointly by Argentina and Chile in 1904 to celebrate
King Edwward VIIs decision in the boundary dispute of 1902.
After exploring the abandoned buildings and surrounding area, I ate a snack
while sitting at the foot of the Argentine flagpole, soaking in the views.
The road down the Chilean side was already impassable with snowbanks, it
being more shielded from the sun. At the pass there was a bit of a breeze,
but it was sunny and nice.
Back on the main highway I headed back towards Puenta del Inca, but before
reaching the border post, I turned off on another dirt road to the Laguna de
los Horcones, a small, pretty, green lake from where there is a great view of
Mount Aconcagua, at 6960 meters, the highest peak in South America. The last
part of the road was closed to vehicle traffic and so I hiked in the last
Back at the border post on the main highway, it was a different guard than
when I went by earlier that morning, and I had to explain the situation
again. He wanted to see my passport and bike papers for himself, and while
looking at my papers, he allowed one slip of paper to be blown away in the
wind. In a second it was over the side of the road and gone. Fortunately,
of the 3 pieces of paper I received the night before, it was the least
important of the three, "No es importante" as the guard said. At many border
crossings in Latin America, at each window where you get a different stamp on
your various documents, they also add a stamp to a seperate single piece of
paper. Later, when you pass the final checkpoint, you hand this piece of
paper to the guard who can then quickly see if you got all the appropriate
stamps without having to look at all your individual documents. It speeds up
the process. It was that bit of paper which had blown away. I hadn't yet
passed that final checkpoint, since it was east of Puenta del Inca, but when
I did I had to explain why I didn't have the piece of paper and then had to
show all my documents.
I rode on to Mendoza, arriving late in the afternoon. After gassing up, I
found a Casa de Cambio downtown where I changed the last of my Chilean pesos
into Argentine pesos. There is only an extremely remote chance that I'll
return to Chile. I had parked on the sidewalk right out front of the
exchange house, and as luck or coincidence would have it, a guy who worked
there, Fernandez, had a '61 BMW R??. It was actually parked on the side
street, within view, but I hadn't noticed it. Fernandez walks out and
introduces himself. He gave me the name and address of a "bike nut" who runs
a BMW repair shop here in Mendoza, and said I should stop by just to chat,
and I might end up with a place to stay for the night. I had mentioned I
planned to camp at one of the campgrounds in the vicinity.
I found the shop, located on a dead-end residencial street, easy enough and
as I parked the bike outside, Carlos Desgens, the "bike nut" and owner of the
shop walked out and introduced himself. I told of meeting his friend, and
that I just stopped by to chat. The shop was relatively large and clean,
both compared to the shop in Santiago. There were some late model R-bikes as
well as older Beemers, a '46 Indian, and an old Velocette. He said, at
another location he had numerous other vintage motorcycles.
The conversation eventually got around to the valve work I did in Santiago,
and I dug out the two old valves to show him. He had a much better stock of
BMW parts than did the shop in Santiago, and produced several different
valves which we used for comparison with my trashed valves. Like Sr.
Canales, whom he knew, Carlos was of the opinion that my trashed valves had
not been in fact new, but had been reworked, and had had the wrong angle cut
on them, which caused the problem. I don't know enough about valve angles
and wear methodology to judge for myself, but their explanations sounded
logical. Hopefully I can resolve the mystery once I get back to the States.
While I was there, a gray, '81 R45, in cherry condition, arrived, ridden by
Jose Orviz. He runs a mountaineering expedition company here in Mendoza.
The R45's were sold in Europe, but I don't think they were imported into the
States, due to their small size, and the lack of a market for them. It
resembled an R65 more or less; a very pretty motorcycle.
I didn't feel comfortable about asking outright if I could have floor-space
somewhere for the night, so said I normally camped, and asked if there was
camping in the area. They gave me directions to Camping Suiza, on the
northwest edge of town. That's cool. If I hadn't run into Fernandez
downtown, I would have been camping anyways. Carlos asks how long I plan to
be in Mendoza, and says if I'm still here tomorrow evening, that I'm invited
to an asado (roast) that a bunch of his friends have each Tuesday. He says
be here at the shop at 8pm. As I leave I tell Carlos that I'll probably see
him tomorrow evening.
On the way out to Camping Suiza I stop at a grocery store for groceries, then
find that Camping Suiza is closed. 100 meters away was another campsite,
where I pull in after dark and pay P7 for a site. There is only one other
tent at the campground. The campground is on a small hill to the northwest
of the city, and from my site I can look down on the lights of Mendoza. The
city itself has a population of about 150000, but with the suburbs has about
Three large German Shepherds greeted me at the front gate, barking furiously,
but once the manager came out they quieted down, and later after I had my
tent set up, one of them came by and curled up beside my tent and went to
Tuesday April 29 74239
I decided to spend the day here and go to the asado tonight. I spent a good
part of the day reading in my guidebooks about northeastern Argentina,
Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil, since i was shortly going to have to make some
decisions which affected my route through those countries, and I hadn't
really read up on them yet. It was a beautiful day and I sat at the picnic
table at my site, in shorts, T-shirt, and Tevas, while a warm breeze blew
through the trees.
Late afternoon I rode back into town to buy some film and oil for the bike.
I was surprised to find that Fuji film was more expensive than Kodak.
Usually I just buy Kodak, but when I discovered it was US$12 for 36 exposures
(slide film) I decided to shop around a bit, but found that Fuji was even
more expensive! I got stuck downtown for about 45 minutes as a big parade
went by on the street and I was unable to move my motorcycle. The parade was
by the employees of the Mendoza Power and Light (Luz y Fuerte) company and
they were protesting the governments plans to privatize it, and in the
process reduce the workforce.
I found the Honda shop; it had crates and crates of new bikes just being
assembled. Most of them were XR400s and XR600s. The salesman said there
were numerous problems with the new XR400. The carburation was setup wrong
for Argentina, the clutch was under-sized, and the suspension was too soft. I
haven't had a chance to read any of the magazine reviews in the States so
don't know if these same problems exist there.
At this one shop I was able to buy the Castrol 20W-50 oil, PJ1 15 weight fork
oil, and Honda foam air filter oil, none of which I could find in Santiago.
They also had PJ1 foam air filter oil, but I choose the Honda since it was
liquid rather than aerosol.
Mendoza is definitely a better place if you need bike parts or bike repair.
Especially if you have a BMW - I most strongly recommend the shop of Carlos
Desgens on Calle J.N. Lencinas 1158 if you need BMW parts or service.
At the shop. Carlos was finishing up working on a R100/7 and a K75. He had
the latest electronic vacuum guage for syncing the carbs on the K-bike.
Several other riders showed up, several others came and went, and at 8:30 we
rode several blocks to a small building with a small grass courtyard out
front, where they have their weekly asado. It functions as their "clubhouse"
for their weekly asados, though it's not really a club. They call the room
"El Piezon" (The Room).
This is a group of 20 or so guys who have known each other for more than 15
years. For years they would go to different restaurants each week. Finally
they pooled funds and bought this building for their weekly gatherings. It
was a large dining hall with a huge fireplace at one end where the asado was
barbequed, and a small kitchen and bathroom at the other end. Along the long
wall windows looked out onto the grass courtyard where we parked our bikes.
Tonight there were 18 guys. Not all ride bikes, but the vast majority do.
Dinner was an each man for himself affair. It started out by munching on
bread and a salad mixture of tomatoes, green onions, spices, and olive oil,
while the asado was being roasted over the fire. Red wine was mixed with
carbonated mineral water as is typical in Argentina. As the asado became
ready, huge trays were passed down the tables and the cuts quickly
disappeared. Being the guest, they made sure I wasn't too shy about grabbing
enough meat as it went by. There were two types of cuts, asado de tira
(ribs) and lomo (fillet steak). Before roasting over the fire it was
sprinkled liberally with salt and a mixture of spices. Very, very tasty! I
could definitely make a habit out of a meal like this, as many Argentines do.
Most guys produced large, hunting-style knives which were used to carve off
chunks of asado from the platter as it went down the table. I was relegated
to using a simple steak knife, miniscule by comparison. For the first time I
wished I had brought my trusty Buck knife instead of the Leatherman.
They quickly learned the quickest way to get my attention from across the
room was to yell out "Hey gringo!" and that became the favored nickname for
me during my stay in Mendoza.
During the course of the evening I was invited along on a weekend ride,
leaving tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday, into the Andes south and west of
Mendoza. They said about 6 bikes were going, most of them G/S's or GS's.
While I had been planning to head east to Buenos Aires, this was an
opportunity to ride with other GSers and to an area of Argentina I hadn't
visited. Plus they were staying at a cabin in the Andes and said there was
trout fishing, and hot springs, and I'd see areas I'd otherwise likely miss.
By the end of the evening I had decided to go on the ride. We were to return
to Mendoza on Sunday.
After the asado was polished off, coffee was served, mixed with a liquor,
Fratela, and several types of sweets were brought out. Membrillo con queso,
and patata con queso. Membrillo (quince) is a pear-like fruit and patata is
made from sweet potatos. Each is eaten with a slice of cheese. The guy who
brought it would cut off large slices of the preserve and cheese and throw it
down the table to the recipient. It was good stuff.
The party ended about 12:30, and several people offered me a place to sleep,
but I had left my tent at the campground, so I returned there for the night.
One guy, affectionately called Flaco (gaunt), was very interested in my Jesse
bags. I gave him the "address", simply Al Jesse at Storm Lake, Iowa as I
assume that would find its way to the right location. I'll also email Al and
ask him to send Flaco some info.